”I’m just nervous.” Sean said. ”We don’t know her birth mother. Tomorrow she could … blow up the cellar.”
Leao laughed quietly into his pillow. ”Relax. It’s not going to be that bad. It’ll take two or three hours, everyone will keep their distance. She understands the drill.”
Sean sighed. ”How long did your inheritance take?”
”Twenty minutes. Maybe less. I went swimming in the lake. I zapped a few fish, but nothing crazy.”
”Did it hurt?”
”No, of course not.” Leao propped up on one elbow. ”Did yours?”
”No.” Sean worried his hands and looked at their bedroom door. ”But my sister screamed for two days when she inherited. She told me later … she said if the pain hadn’t kept her blind and deaf she would have killed herself to make it stop.”
Leao sat up, rested his arms on his knees. ”You never told me.”
Sean offered him a sideways smile. ”It’s not exactly a fond memory.”
Sean shook his head. ”She’s never talked about it.”
”Well, the fact is, we don’t know her mother–”
The bedroom door cracked open. A small hand wrapped around the edge. ”Daddy? Papa?” Freha’s soft voice filled the space between them.
Sean slid out of bed and opened the door. His daughter held her night shirt up to chew on the hem. ”There’s something in my room.”
Sean pet her head and took her hand. ”Come on. Let’s chase it out so you can get some sleep.” Freha’s hand was small and cold. Sean frowned. She occasionally saw monsters in the closet or under the bed, what young child didn’t? But she’d never been this cold, before.
Sean pushed her door open and tried to remember if they had another blanket in the hall closet.
Freha whined and hid her face against his thigh. Sean willed light into the room. ”Look, Freha. There’s nothing–” Sean stiffened there in the hall.
Freha looked into her room and relaxed against him. Of course, she couldn’t see it yet. Freha stepped away from her father and Sean tightened his grip on her hand. ”Actually, Freha…” He knelt at her level and tore his eye from the dark omen above her bed. ”Would you like to sleep with Papa and I tonight?”
Her eyes lit up. They hadn’t allowed such an indulgence in months. She scrambled down the hall before Sean could change his mind. He wasn’t going to.
Sean willed the light out and quietly closed Freha’s bedroom door.
When Sean climbed back into his own bed, Freha had already snuggled in under the covers and was nearly asleep. Leao gave him a soft side-eye. ”Did she give you puppy eyes?”
”There’s a dougun over her bed.”
Leao hissed, ”What? Here?”
Sean put a hand on his husband’s shoulder. ”Don’t. It was just watching. I didn’t want her alone with it, is all.”
Leao looked down at his daughter and back up at Sean. ”How powerful is she?”
Sean slid down into the covers, ”At least as powerful as my sister. They seemed drawn to her.”
Leao groaned into his pillow. ”What are we supposed to do, then?”
”Nothing right now. Sleep–”
”And we’ll deal with it in the morning.” Sean reached over Freha to grip Leao’s shoulder. ”We’ll deal with it.”
”Can your sister come over?”
”I’ll talk to her in the morning.”
Leao nodded. Then nodded again like he was trying to convince himself of Sean’s words. They lay in bed, each of them pretending to sleep.
Just before dawn, the dougun drifted from Freha’s room into theirs.
It was as tall as a man at least, maybe larger. The dark, drifting cloak, tattered at the edges and fading like smoke made the size of it difficult to define. It looked down at them from where it piled and spilled over the ceiling, an open and unyeilding orange stare.
Leao’s hand quietly slid into Sean’s, trembling. Sean didn’t feel much more confident, despite his assurance they shouldn’t worry about it. He’d been concerned about Freha’s inheritence for all the usual reasons: explosions, electricity, the likelihood she would break something during the few chaotic hours she was coming into her power. Now a dougun was following her. It changed everything.
The dougun was an ill omen at best. They gathered at places of massacre and pain. They could predict death. They often reaped lives themselves, shredding the unfortunate victim to ribbons, then dismantlement the soul itself. If one believed in souls. After what Sean had seen in life, he knew souls were real. What else could a dougun be but a corrupted soul feeding on the misery of the living?
”Sean, we need to leave,” Leao whispered.
He squeezed his husbnd’s hand. ”It’ll just follow.”
”That’s not reassuring.”
Sean smiled despite the looming portent over the bed. He hadn’t seen his sister’s inheritance, she was nearly seven years older than him, but according to family, two dougun had followed her for a week before she came into her power, and whenever they traveled, she seemed to attract their attention.
”We should go to your sister’s place. She’ll know what to do.”
Sean knew Leao wanted to get away from the dougun more than anything else, but it still wasn’t a bad idea. Lenneia specialized in spirits. She would have all the supplies for circles and warding at her house.
Leao managed to lay still only for another minute, then he slid from the bed without waking Freha. ”I’m going to pack our bags. Tell me if it moves.”
Of course, the dougun wasn’t here for them, so it didn’t react to Leao in the least. Just boiled like black mist on the ceiling, occasionally circling. Sean tucked Freha into his side, unable to quell the urge to protect her. There was nothing that could stop a dougun on a mission, but Sean felt better with his daughter in his arms regardless.
Leao’s soft movements about the bedroom were punctuated by sudden glances at the dougun, as if Leao felt he was being watched, or worse. Sean understood the flighty urge to escape. The same tremor had settled under his breastbone, cutting his breath short. He should help Leao.
Sean slid from the bed. Freha cooed, but didn’t wake. It was still early enough to be almost-dark outside, and his daughter simply curled her fist up against her nose and wiggled into a better position.
Now that he was moving, Sean’s urge to run intensified. He and Leao quietly packed their backs, stuffed them full enough to be gone for a month. They communicated with glances that cae with years of familiarity. Sean took both bags down the hall while Leao scooped sleeping Freha from the bed and followed. Leao loaded the car while Sean packed Freha’s bag of clothes. He ducked into the spare bathroom to fetch her toothbrush, when the temperature seemed to drop.
Sean dashed into the hall and flinched away from the dougun streaming like a banner out of the master bedroom. Leao had closed the door, but the creature’s black mist simply oozed around the door between the frame and re-assembled on the other side. Orange eyes blinked open, staring in the direction of the front door, where the car was perched and idling in the driveway. Leao was waiting on him.
Sean swallowed. He gathered Freha’s bag in one hand, snatched his keys off the counter, and locked the front door behind him. The porch light was on, still glowing in the semi-dark. No one would know from the manicured lawn and precisely painted shutters that a creature of evil lay waiting inside. He shuddered to break up the spike of ice in his spine and hopped in the car. Leao squeaked the tires in his rush to leave. Sean didn’t blame him. No one was ready for a dougun anywhere near them, and to find one hovering over their daughter… following her into their room…? Sean was beyond spooked. He blew out his breath in an attempt to calm down.
”You should text Lenneia so we don’t show up unexpected.”
”Yeah.… yeah.” Sean fished his phone out of his pocket and crafted a short explanation.
We think Freha’s inheritance is close. Found a :dougun emoji: over her bed this morning. On our way to you. 2ish hours.
Her response was too quick for her to be asleep. I’ll get the guest bed ready. Is she sparking?
Not yet :sweatdrop:
Good. See you soon.
Sean stared at the text string for several minutes, waiting for something else. Anything else. Even though that was clearly the end of the conversation. Sparking light was always the first sign of an inheritance coming in–everyone sparked. Sean had only sparked for a few minutes, but Lenneia told him she’d sparked for a day before things really ramped up. But as Leao said so many times before, they didn’t know who Freha’s mother was, so they didn’t know how strong she might be, or what kind of precautions to take. He was frightened. He wanted nothing more than a happy, healthy little girl. But he couldn’t protect her from douguns, and since she wasn’t even sparking yet, what else would she call to her during the inheritance? Sean didn’t want to dwell on it. Only nightmares lived there.
They still had at least a week before anything happened. Probably. he couldn’t let his imagination get away from him now, it would only get worse.
A sudden flash in the back of the car startled him. Leao jumped in his seat. Sean twisted around to see Freha, still asleep in her booster, spark like a lightbulb a second time.
He exchanged a worried look with Leao.
”Fuck,” Leao said. He drove faster.